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October this year sees the 60th anniversary of the first mass conversion to Buddhism of people then known as ‘Untouchables’, in Nagpur, India, which took place on 14th October 1956, led by Dr BR Ambedkar.
In celebration, the International Network of Engaged Buddhists and Triratna’s Indian retreat centre Nagaloka are holding a weekend conference, ‘Social engagement and liberation’, 11th-14th October.
The conversion anniversary itself will be marked on 11th October at Nagpur’s Diksha Bhumi, site of the original mass conversion, and is expected to be attended by a million people.
The speakers, Buddhists from traditional and western backgrounds, include Order members Subhuti, Amitamati and Maitriveer Nagarjuna. At the time of writing the speaker list on the conference website is not complete but will include several more Buddhist women including Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, whose story was told in the book Cave in the Snow. All will look at aspects of Buddhism central to Dr Ambedkar’s vision:
1) Dhamma as empowerment
2) Breaking down barriers between people
3) The implications of the Dhamma for governance and civil society
The organisers write: “Bringing Dr Ambedkar’s compelling approach to Buddhism to the attention of the wider Buddhist world, this conference will provide an opportunity for members of Triratna in both India and the west to work with the International Network of Engaged Buddhists.
Born a so-called ‘Untouchable’ in 1891, Dr. Ambedkar dedicated his life to bringing about a society without discrimination of any kind, a society permeated by the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These values, he said, he had learnt not from the French Revolution but from his master, the Buddha. His life of ceaseless struggle culminated in his conversion to Buddhism along with 500,000 others, in October 1956, on the anniversary of King Ashoka’s conversion many centuries earlier.
He initiated a peaceful Dhamma revolution, the wheels of which turn faster and faster every day. Even though he died just a few weeks after his conversion in 1956, millions continue to follow him into Buddhism, paving the way for a caste-free, true democracy in India.
Triratna’s founder, Sangharakshita, has described Dr Ambedkar as “the greatest non-violent revolutionary of the [20th] Century.
Watch a video about Dr Ambedkar and his importance in Triratna (15 minutes).
His importance in Indian political and social life can be gauged from the fact that all Indian political parties have co-opted him and invested enormous energy in celebrating the 125th anniversary of his birth earlier this year. We hope that, the more they look at him, the more they will appreciate the social significance of his conversion to Buddhism.
The conference is organised in partnership with the Deer Park Institute, with funding from Triratna’s Karuna Trust.
With good wishes,
The organising team: Lokamitra (co-ordinator), Mangesh Dahiwale, Gauthama Prabhu, Hozan Alan Senauke, Prashant Varma and Tejadarshan”
Following the Nagpur event, arrangements will be made to transport those who wish to go to Chandrapur to mark the anniversary of a further mass conversion led by Dr Ambedkar on 16th October, 1956.
There will be accommodation for at least 200 people. There is no charge for those from abroad, but donations are welcome.
Register and see further details online or
60liberation [at] gmail.com (Email) to ask for information or a registration form.
Find out more about Dr Ambedkar, including an Indian feature film about his life, free online (3 hours).